Bartenders Guide: Irish Whiskey

“Ninety percent [of my salary] I'll spend on good times, women and Irish Whiskey. The other ten percent I'll probably waste.”
-Attributed to both Tug McGraw and George Best

Unless you're in an extremely well-stocked and well-staffed bar, if you ask for Irish Whiskey, you're likely to get one of two things: A blank look, followed by a bottle of Scotch, or a crusted half-bottle of Bushmills with as much dust inside the glass as out. A well-intentioned but sadly misinformed bartender will probably go ahead and chill it down for you, too. Nice, huh?

I view this as opportunity.

The fact is, the average person on the street doesn't have a clue what Irish Whiskey is, much less what it's about. I attack this with all the fervor of a Jehovah's Witness trying to woo a potential convert. I have gone so far as to bring the bartender a bottle on my next visit, with the promise that they give anyone their first shot for free.

"My Son, you simply have not seen the Light."

And there is light, in a bottle of the Pure.

There is Lightness of Character, a shade less heavy and medicinal than Scotch, a touch less cloying and sweet than bourbon. Stick your nose in a shot of Jamesons, which is an excellent value for the money, and breathe it in. The rich caramel and vanilla is overwhelming, reminiscent of a just-toasted creme brulée. Where Scotch can sometimes taste a tad overdone, Irish Whiskey is Whiskey in its simplest form, allowing the amazing results of distillation to shine through.

And perhaps most importantly, there is Lightness of Being. When you hold a dram of Kilbeggan, or any Irish Whiskey in your hand, you're holding one of the oldest distilled beverages in Europe, pre-dating even Scotch. Unchanged, un-fooled around with...the stuff of Kings and Paupers alike, all flowing through history and culminating on your lips. You, the guy (or gal) who just got a promotion, or whose favorite aunt has just died, or who's about to become a parent. Doesn't matter. However good or bad you feel, Irish Whiskey is going to lift you up a notch. Try it and see.

And then go invite someone else into the Light.

Shaker Tools

Irish whiskey (Gaelic: Fuisce or Uisce beatha) is a whiskey made in Ireland. There are several types of whiskey common to Ireland: Single Malt, Single Grain, Pure Pot Still and Blended Whiskey.

By clicking on the distillation methods above, you can gain more information on each one. However, Irish Pure Pot Still is unique in that in Ireland, this usually refers to a whiskey made from 100% barley, both malted and unmalted. This unmalted "green" barley is what gives Irish Pure Pot Still its lively, spicy quality.

The chief differences between Irish Whiskey and Scotch are that Irish whiskey is usually a mixture of both malted and unmalted grains, and that when malted grains are present, peat is almost never used in the malting process. (Peat is what gives Scotch its smoky, earthy notes.)

Also, Irish Whiskey is largely triple-distilled. Few Scottish malts are, with some exceptions. This causes Irish Whiskey to (generally) be lighter, smoother and fresher than the majority of Scottish malts.

As of this writing, there are only three distilleries operating in Ireland, although they produce many different brands (labels) apiece. They are: New Midleton Distillery, Old Bushmills Distillery and Cooley Distillery.

'Sláinte!' (pronounced 'slawn-cha'), meaning Health! A common toast in Ireland, the equivalent to ‘Cheers’